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Digital vs. Offset Printing: How To Choose?

Design is a complex and multilayered industry, and just as good design begins about ten steps before pen actually hits paper (or tablet, as it were), neither does it end when the final digital proofs are approved and delivered. The actual implementation of the design must be treated with considerable thought and care as well, if you’re interested in gaining maximum effect from the design itself.
The most common implementation questions we come across are often in regards to printing… what finishes to use, what stock, and most often, should we use digital or offset printing?

In the past decade, digital printing has benefited from a surge in popularity… due to a combination of increased affordability, technical advancements, and the availability of more options than were previously possible in digital print. Literally hundreds of new digital print companies have opened their doors online, making commercial print solutions more readily available to everyone. That said, this growth in popularity has also caused quite a bit of confusion for those not “in the biz”, and a few unscrupulous (or plain inexperienced) companies are taking advantage of this confusion… resulting in a large proportion of print consumers walking away with a product that does not meet their needs.

An understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of digital printing versus those of traditional offset lithography, is crucial in making the right choice in your printing company.


OFFSET: Offset lithography is the most commonly trusted high volume commercial printing technology. In offset printing, the design image is first burned onto a plate, and is then transferred (or offset) from the plate to a rubber sheet, and finally to the printing surface. The lithographic process is based on the repulsion of oil and water. The image to be printed gets ink from ink rollers, while the non printing area attracts a film of water, keeping the non printing areas ink-free.

DIGITAL: If you have a desktop printer at home, you’re likely already familiar with the mechanical process of digital printing. Many of the mechanical steps required for offset printing are eliminated (namely, making films and colour proofs, manually stripping the pieces together, and making plates), which results in a much more affordable print solution.


In general…
1. Shorter turnaround
2. Lower costs for very small print runs
3. Availability of variable data printing (database driven, e.g. mailing lists)


In general…
1. Higher image quality, higher resolution and no streaks/spots.
2. Works on a wide range of printing surfaces including paper, wood, cloth, metal, leather, rough paper and plastic.
3. The unit cost goes down as the quantity goes up.
4. Quality and cost-effectiveness in high volume jobs.
5. Many modern offset presses use computer-to-plate (as opposed to the older computer-to-film system) further increasing quality.


Offset printing has a front-end cost load, which means short runs (low quantities) may have a high per-unit cost. But as quantities increase, the unit cost goes down with offset printing. Very short runs can be more cost effective with digital printing; while larger quantities are likely to have a lower unit cost with offset printing.
Printing Medium
Do you need or want a special paper, finish or unusual printing surface, or unique size? The options are getting better for digital, but offset printing still offers the most flexibility.
Digital presses use four-colour process (CMYK) printing. If you need only black ink or one or two ink colours, offset printing may offer a more cost-effective solution. If you need four-color printing, digital may offer advantages in lower up-front costs. That said, a few progressive modern offset printing companies are now offering rich full-colour printing, with no added plate/setup fees for additional colours.
If you’re planning to print using the Pantone® Matching System, offset printing will give you the best match, since it uses actual Pantone® ink. Digital printing simulates the colour using a four-color matching process, so some digital printers may offer less accurate colour matching on projects.
If you need it fast, digital usually offers quicker delivery. Again though, a few select offset print houses are now offering print turnaround in as short a timeframe as 24 hours.
Digital offers more accurate proofs, since what you see is an actual sample of the printed piece, printed using the exact process as the intended run. For offset printing, if you need hard proofs, stringently accurate colour proofing can become expensive.
With the ease of database driven variable data printing, digital printing offers the most affordable way to customize marketing materials, direct mail pieces, letters, etc. with a different name/address or number/code on each printed piece.


Digital printing can be the ideal solution for some people, but in our experience, computer-to-plate offset lithography (combined with respectably high quality stock and finishing) always yields the superior result in print quality. The trick then becomes finding the right partner.
Not everyone is able to invest this sort of research into choosing the right print partner, but to ensure the best results, we would strongly suggest that you follow these minimal steps:

1. Leave Nothing to Chance
Be very specific with your print company when communicating which stock you want used, which colours, which process (digital vs offset) and what sort of finishing or coating you want on your cards.

2. Get Samples
Before initiating your print project, request samples from your prospective print companies. All reputable print houses have a standing offer of free samples expressly for this purpose.

3. Proof
If you are managing your own print project, and are working with a local firm, be sure to request a pre-press proof before authorizing the full run. This will allow you to confirm that the company understood your specific instructions outlined in item 1 above. It will also allow you a hands-on preview of the final product, so you can catch any imperfections ahead of time. If you are working with a remote partner, be sure to request a digital proof… while this requires an element of trust in terms of the stock and finish, a digital proof will allow you to ensure all visuals are to spec.

In the end, a good design cannot fully live up to its potential when run on a shoddy print job. If you are as careful and selective in choosing a print partner as you were in choosing a design firm, you can ensure that the physical product that actually reaches your partners or customers is of the highest possible quality.

Because all things considered, high quality is precisely the message you want to deliver. Interested in how we can help? Why not give us a call: 01942 850050

Stewart Raises over £2000 For British Red Cross

Wallace team member Stewart Taylor recently took part in the 2014 London marathon on behalf of the British Red Cross raising the excellent sum of over £2000. Competing the course in an exhilarating “3hrs 54mins 11secs”, Stewart was buoyed by the achievement and is looking forward to doing the whole thing again in 2015.

“I regularly run 7 to 10miles to keep fit and thought running the London marathon would be a great challenge – because other people will benefit from the money I raised, the whole experience made me extremely self satisfied and proud”.

We say well done Stewart – now run along and get the coffee’s in….!

Bespoke Printed Presentation Folders

Ever thought about having a bespoke printed presentation folder to promote your business?

Reduce the cost of your personalised presentation folders by taking advantage of one of our wide range of in-house cutting formes.

Please contact us for more details or to obtain a quote.

Leaflets & Flyers

Printed on various weights of silk, gloss or uncoated stocks, typically produced in A5, A4 and DL sizes. Many folds and formats are available.

Continuous Stationery

We can print all types of continuous stationery and forms. Continuous stationery is an excellent way for many companies to produce large amounts of invoices, statements, purchase orders, sales orders etc. utilising a daisy wheel or modern pin-fed type printer system. We can print custom continuous stationery and forms in various colours and sizes and in various multi-part sheets. We can add to your existing company logo or we can create artwork for you.
We use only quality lightweight paper that is designed for one time image transfer only meaning that once printed your forms will remain readable. We can also supply singlesheet continuous forms suitable for using with laser printers.
We can obviously supply advanced finishing where required such as additional perforations or punched holes, glued edges, sequenced numbering, and the printing of sale conditions or general terms and conditions on the reverse side of sheets. We can also supply continuous stationery with micro-perforations that mean when a document has had its side strips torn off that the resulting document has a quality edge.

Multipart NCR Sets, Books and Pads

Multipart NCR cut sets are loose and multipart (usually 2-4 parts). They are usually glued at the end, with many of the same options as multipart books and pads except there is no requirement for writing shields. Normally a cut set is used either manually (written on), typed or put through an impact printer. NCR cut sets can be used on an inkjet printer as long as each sheet is printed separately and re-collated after printing. When more than one copy is required, NCR cut sets can provide the ideal solution for many types of NCR business forms including: Invoices, Delivery Notes and Purchase Orders.Like NCR books and pads, NCR cut sets can also have additional extras including numbering and file holes.
Multipart sets can also be made up into glued pads with attached writing shields or wire stitched into books with perforated leaves and front covers.

Calendars & Wall Planners

We produce calendars in all shapes and sizes from A3 and A4 wall hung calendars, to desk ‘tent’ style calendars. Wall planners can also be produced up to A2 in size.

Business Cards

Produced to your specification on up to 400gsm stock. Extra finishes are available such as lamination, spot uv varnish and foil blocking.

Printed Stationery

Letterheads, continuation sheets and compliment slips produced to your specification, can be produced on all widely available stocks.

Presentation Folders

We offer a wide range of presentation folders in both tab-interlocking and glued pocket styles. Choose from our extensive range of stock cutting formes featuring four or six page layouts, pockets with various capacities, with and without business card slits. Additional finishes such as lamination, spot uv varnish and foil blocking are available if needed.